Oktobre Harvest

by Jim Craig
for Rachel II, CDX
and especially Meridith

Ashbernham village was filled with the smell of its apple orchards. The silversmith sat in front of her shop, straddling a bench polishing a series of spoons. She tossed her long, red brown hair over her shoulder as she jested with the aged potter sitting in his doorway across the lane, resting. A few fat, silk clad merchants were walking the street eying the silver smith's work. They didn't stop to haggle but continued on their way to the Green Wyvern for lunch.

The Green Wyvern was one of the few well kept buildings in the village. Gerald Berwyn believed that his inn was the best on the Areana Trade Road, and went to any expense to keep it that way. A pair of boys sat on the roof replacing broken and missing shingles. The outside walls were stained with stain from the Southern City Gren. Gerald also made it well know that bards who performed at the inn would have a free meal and bed for the night.

Many travelers did come to stay and enjoy the atmosphere. Most were merchants who talked loudly, making deals and telling stories of deals made. Other travelers were just on their way through, some heading north to reach the eastern Kingdom of Randaph and others heading south to Dun Derr. They mixed freely with each other, discussing travel plans and exchanging information about the dangers that may cross their paths. Others were just alone, traveling the lands to see what they could see, and do what they could do. For this last reason, Meryndath was here.

Meryndath sat alone outside the Green Wyvern on a bench watching the clouds, seemingly lost in thought as she listened to the tumult of voices and eating. The bar maids flirted outrageously with the bat of an eye and the twirl of a skirt as they served chilled ale, bread and cheese. Meryndath wrapped her travel stained cloak around her as the mountain-born breeze picked up. With green eyes she watched the rest of the world over the rim of her cup. Twice she brushed her blonde hair back, it constantly fell to block her view. She listened to a pair of fur clad travelers sitting nearby warn others about the growing hostility of the Tor men in the north. Maybe I won't go north, she thought. One of the travelers who had been listening spoke. Meryndath noticed that he was dressed in leather britches and overcoat, and had a blue plumed cap. Southerner, Meryndath guessed. He told the northerners about the fine weather and hospitality of the Duns south of Derr. Meryndath heard him mention the Dun Merillyn, but not anything about it. What did he say about my home? Realizing the blue plumed man was watching her watching him, she looked back to clouds, still keeping an ear open to what was being said.

A wailing child came running from the orchards down the lane, slapping himself on the arms and chest. The merchants merely glanced at the boy, annoyed at the disturbance. Many of the shop keeps of Ashbernham stopped what they were doing to see what was the commotion about. The silversmith stood up, knocking over her bench and sending spoons sailing in every direction as she ran out to the boy. When she reached him she scooped him up into her arms trying to calm him and find out what was wrong. Few patrons of the Green Wyvern paid attention, though many villagers stopped to watch, and a few moved to help. Meryndath just watched as she took another sip of tea.

A man followed by a dog was the first to reach the silversmith and her child. "Aye, little Aaron," the man said in a kind voice. "Looks like you found one of the hives in the orchard." He helped carry the boy to an empty bench and lay him down.

"Ryn, the welts are swelled," the silversmith said in a worried tone. She brushed her son's hair to comfort him. "Aye, he's allergic to the stinger's' poison," Ryn said, digging through his satchel. Finding what he was looking for, he offered a root to the boy. "Chew on this. It will stop the pain." Aaron took it reluctantly and began chewing. Ryn then began to apply a salve to the welts. Aaron cried out at the first contact, then lay quietly chewing the root. Ryn handed the salve jar his mother. "Here, keep this and apply it to him every morning until the welts are gone." Ryn reached into the sack again and handed a fist full of the root to her. "If it starts to hurt, give him one of these. But.. only one. You don't want to deaden his feeling by giving him too much."

The potter walked over to help the silversmith move Aaron inside her house. Shouldering his satchel, Ryn walked back to the fletcher's to finish interrupted business. Meryndath stood to intercept him but realizing that he was in the middle of something sat back down.

Gerald saw her, and misunderstood it as a signal for his attention. "Is there anything you need, Lady? A drink?" Gerald asked, rubbing his hands on the towel wrapped on his belt.

"Nay," Meryndath said quickly, trying to dismiss him, but added, "That man who helped the silver smith's child... Aaron? ...who is he?"

"Ah, that would be Ryn. He's a healer, and a damned good one at that. Hmph... he claims that all he does is use herbs and such. But not for not, I'll be damned if he don't have some of the dweomer in him."

"Dweomer?" Meryndath asked with a confused look on her face.

"Aye, magic." Meryndath looked at Gerald incredulously, then at Ryn with a slight look of mixed horror and fascination. He looks so normal, she thought. Gerald continued at the prompting of her expression. "Not too many years ago Saims the thatcher fell ill from poisoning. He was sure as dead, but Ryn came and did his magic. Not a day later the man was up and about healthy as ever." Gerald's voice was raised, and a few of the people nearby stopped and listened to him.

"Really," Meryndath said in a deliberate, quieting voice. "Would it be possible for me to see Ryn? Where does he live?" Ryn had disappeared, and Meryndath craned to see where he had gone.

"You can see him, M'lady. Are you ill? I could send someone after him" Gerald turned and yelled into the Inn, "Geoff! Come out here!"

Meryndath tried to interrupt him. "No, I'm not ill. I just need to talk with him." At this point, Geoff came out the front of the inn. The boy looked at Gerald. Meryndath spoke before Gerald could. "Geoff, I would like a cup of tea. If you would be so kind..." Meryndath's voice trailed off. She knew her request was more than a command for the boy, and she smiled as Geoff ran inside to get some. Meryndath smiled. "Could you at least point me in the direction of his house?"

Gerald shrugged. "Sure. There's a trail on the other side of town that goes off to Thenrill. Ryn's home is along the path. In fact... it's the only house out there. It's about half a day's journey."

"Good," Meryndath said. "I think I'll leave after lunch. Here," she handed Gerald a copper coin, "could you have a travel meal made as well?" Gerald nodded, and walked inside. He didn't try to hide the smile that Meryndath's actions had brought to his face.

* * * * * * *

Meryndath wrapped he cloak tighter around her as she walked. The wind continued to blow from the mountains as the sun fell. She jumped at the sound of a creaking treetop. A shadow ducked behind a tree to her left, and Meryndath let out a quick scream. "Damn it!" she said aloud, looking around the tree and finding nothing. She picked up her pace as she continued down the trail. A snarl made her jump again, and Meryndath spun around in a circle looking for the source of the sound. When she faced forward again, she screamed. A humanoid creature blocked her path.

It swung out at Meryndath with a spindly arm. She jumped back out of the creature's reach. The creature took a step forward into the dying light. It's beady yellow eyes were filled with hunger and malicious intent. Its forked tongue flickered out from between it's pointed teeth. For a moment the two just stared at each other. It watching her, and she too scared to move.

Meryndath's mind screamed for her to run, and she placed a tentative foot behind her. A stick caught between her feet, and Meryndath fell. The gobling jumped at her, swinging it's sword. Meryndath rolled to the side, but the blade did scrape her side. Meryndath yelled, as she grabbed a stick. The gobling made another thrust, aimed at Meryndath's head. She swung the stick as hard as she could and hit the gobling in the side of the head. It fell on top of her, and shook it's head. Meryndath rolled over and tried to stand up, but there was no strength in her arms. She fell forward, her world beginning to spin. The gobling stood and chuckled gutturally. It took deliberate steps towards her, Meryndath could only watch its approach.

Suddenly a dark, furry form jumped over Meryndath and knocked into the gobling. Meryndath heard a growl and what sounded like a bark. The gobling's scream was cut with a gurgling sound. Meryndath tried to focus her eyes. The gobling was lying down, and the furry form stood over it. The sun set as Meryndath's own world was drowned in black.

A voice called out from the woods. "Rachel? Rachel!" The dog pricked up it's ears, and barked. A moment later, Ryn came running. "Rachel, what have you found here?" Ryn stopped to look at the scene, glancing quickly at the gobling and then kneeling at Meryndath's side. "Hmm," he said, feeling the girl's forehead. He stood up looking around, and picked up the gobling's sword to inspect the blade. "Damn," he muttered aloud.

"Come on, Rachel, let's get this girl inside. The gobling's blade was poisoned." Ryn hefted the girl over his shoulder and headed off to his house. Rachel followed, carrying a stick in her mouth.

* * * * * * * *

Rachel was not an average German Shepherd. Her body was small but very strong, she could run faster that any other dog in the area. Her ears were floppy, and when she tried to make them stand straight up, they never quite made it all the way up. Her coat was a fine seal coat, with a tan underside and a black saddle. Of all of her differences, the most noticeable was when she wagged her tail. It never went from side to side, but always in a circular motion. Ryn was very proud of her. Of any dog he had ever owned, she was the smartest. Ryn had been able to teach her to come to his call, lay down and stay until he told her it was ok, and how far is far enough when she goes wandering. The best trick (in Ryn's opinion) was to put a piece of meat on her nose. Rachel would patiently wait until Ryn said it was ok, and then she would flip the morsel in the air, and catch it. For all these tricks, Ryn could not stop her from chewing up a stick in the house. Rachel sat happily, gnawing away in front of the fire.

Ryn took another warm, damp cloth from the bowl in his hand and placed it on Meryndath's forehead. The girl had taken ill from the poison on the gobling's blade, and Ryn was doing what he could to break the fever. After coming back from the scene, Ryn had put her in bed, and wrapped her with blankets. That had been three days ago. Since then, Ryn had been slaving over her, feeding her Fern moss and hornroot. He also worked on a potion to make her fever break. Ryn knew that he could cure the sickness, he was worried how long it would take. The longer it took, the worse off the girl would be in the long run.

"She is a pretty lass, isn't she Rachel?" Ryn asked, sitting back. Rachel looked up and wagged her tail. "Couldn't you do for one day without chewing up a stick inside?" Ryn took the broken shards and threw them in the fire.

Meryndath moaned. Ryn looked over at the girl. Her eyes were open, and she was staring at him, trying to focus on her surroundings. "Ryn?" she asked faintly. Ryn nodded.

"M'lady, your too ill. Just rest." Ryn knelt down beside her and applied another cloth to her forehead.

Meryndath looked around the room. Ryn's home was a single room with a slate roof. The walls were made of stone, and in some places wood lined the wall, though more for racks and places to hang things that as support. There were two windows, one on the wall opposite Meryndath, and a small one next to the door. The bed Meryndath was in was built into a corner of the room, next to the fire. A table dominated the middle of the room, and it was cluttered with vials and mounds of roots, leaves and berries. The wall across from the fireplace was covered by a series of shelves, which were covered with vials, books and plants. Everything Ryn needed to create the medicines was here in this room. Meryndath tried to raise her head. A wave of dizziness hit her, and she fell back to the bed.

"Don't be trying to stand up, dear," Ryn said, in a caring voice. "You'll be well soon enough. The fact you are conscious is a good sign."

Meryndath did not look as though she was understanding what Ryn was saying. She raised her eyes to him. "Ryn... I came looking.. for.. you." She didn't have as much energy as she thought she would.

Ryn sat back. What did she want to see me for? Oh well, there's no reason to dwell on it. I'm sure she'll tell me when she's well enough. Rachel nudged his arm. Looking down at her, Ryn smile. "No, Rachel. Not inside." Rachel dropped the stick, and looked up at Ryn. "Ok, ok. But outside." Ryn and Rachel went outside, leaving Meryndath to sleep out the sickness.

* * * * * * *

The outside of Ryn's house was very peculiar indeed. He had built so that a side was in the side of a hill. Ryn did this to give the chimney a natural support. The house and hill was in a small clearing in the forest, along the trail that passed through. A small river, cold with mountain water, gurgled behind the hill. The south side of the hill (the house was on the east) was a garden where Ryn grows some of the plants and herbs that he needed. The only other structure in the clearing was a small shed next to the garden. A small field was the only other open space in the clearing. Ryn leaned over to pick up the stick Rachel had dropped in front of him. Rachel danced in anticipation and wagged her tail in circles. Ryn threw the stick into the field, and Rachel took off after it. Meryndath laughed.

"She really likes to play 'stick', doesn't she?" Meryndath asked.

"Yeah," Ryn said, waiting for Rachel to bring the stick back. "For the week you were sick, this is pretty much all we did. I figured I had to stay close, and all of the gardening I needed to do was done. I'm glad to see that you are better."

Meryndath smiled. "I'm forever grateful for your help. I.. I guess I wasn't ready for the situation I got myself into." Ryn took the stick from Rachel and threw it again. The dog bounded off and got it. Instead of coming right back with it, Rachel went over to the stream running by the house, and took a long drink, lapping at the water loudly.

"Now that you are better, I suppose you could tell me what you are doing out here. Very few people feel the need to travel the forest trail, unless they have specific business." Ryn looked her in the eye. What are you doing out here, he asked mentally.

"I, uh... saw you in Ashbernham. I saw you take care of that poor boy who found a bee hive. I guess I felt that I wanted to learn how to do what it was that you do." Meryndath seemed uncomfortable, or was it a residual effect of the sickness? Ryn couldn't tell. His mind was occupied with her response.

To heal like me... he thought. Rachel came back, and Ryn threw the stick for her. "Really," was all Ryn could say for the moment.

"Well, yes. I've been on the road for so long, it would be nice to settle for a little while," Meryndath continued. "Besides, I'm running low on money, and I can't afford to stay in an Inn much longer."

She's playing on you, Ryn thought to himself. Yeah, so? What's your point? he replied. "Sure, why not. I guess I wouldn't mind a pupil." As long as it wasn't Lanna! Rachel was back again, and raced off after the stick again. For a while Ryn thought in silence. Meryndath just sat quietly watching Ryn and Rachel play.

Ryn's first thought was to reject the girl outright. He had been through this before, and all Ryn had gotten from it was pain and bitterness. Not another, Ryn thought. His mind wandered back to the time with Lanna. She had come, looking to be taught how to heal. But she came under the pretense that she loved him. Lanna had promised they;d be together for ever, working to help others together, sharing cold nights together. But then she left. Her only explanation was that she felt she had learned all she needed, and wanted to go off and find her own area to take care of. Her only explanation for the alleged love between them was a shrug, and "I guess things change".

I guess things change... .R

Ryn decided to let her stay. At least she didn't give any pretenses of affection. He wasn't sure if he could trust her, so he decided that all he would teach her for now would be the basics. If she stays, and I feel that her intentions are true, then I'll delve into the true teachings, he told himself. By now Rachel had come back, and Ryn threw the stick out again.

"Aye, I'll teach ya, lass," Ryn said. "I'll teach ya."

* * * * * * *

Ryn leaned back and looked up at the sun. It was about noon, and the sun was bathing the glade with warmth. For a summer day, Ryn noted with pleasure, this one was very mild. Ryn and Meryndath had walked most of the morning to get out to the glade. Ryn explained to here that this was the only place in the forest where he could find Fern moss. Rachel spent the time investigating every hole, shrub and fallen tree along the way. On occasion she would disappear, though you could always here her but the rustle of leaves where ever she was.

"So, Ryn," Meryndath said, placing a handful of the root into a jar, "what is it that this root does? And why do we have to come all the way out here to get it? Couldn't you grow some closer to the house?"

"It could grow near the house, but every attempt I've ever made to transplant these has failed. Besides, I kinda like the walk. Especially on a day like today." Ryn enjoyed talking about his craft with Meryndath, especially since she seem interested. Of course, he reminded himself, Lanna was interested as well. Meryndath sat quietly, waiting for Ryn to continue. Painfully aware that he was not going to answer, and also aware that she was waiting, Ryn pretended to completely concentrate on gathering a little more Fern moss. Meryndath finally gave up and continued to help.

They spent the next hour gathering Fern moss in silence. Their walk back started in silence, until Meryndath finally spoke.

"You've shown me a lot about the places that your reagents grow, and how to gather them, but you haven't told me a lick of what you do with them."

Ryn thought for a brief moment. "I thought you wouldn't be interested in that." It was a lie and Ryn looked for an escape. Where's Rachel? he thought.

"Ryn. I told you that I wanted to learn what you do. You even said you'd teach me. But all you've done is made me a better gardener."

"These things take time to learn," Ryn said. "Besides, I will say that you have been a good learner. I was thinking that tomorrow night we should go to the river and collect Mandrake. The moon will be new." Ryn hoped this would change the subject. Unfortunately, it did just the opposite, as Meryndath used it to push her point further.

"And what is Mandrake for? Of course, you wont tell me, will you? I ask you these questions, and you just ignore them. Everything else you take time to explain. Everything!"

Ryn looked at her. Meryndath looked right back. In a steady voice, Ryn asked her, "is that all you are after, my knowledge?" He realized then that he was treading on a subject that he wished to forget. Gods damn ye, Lanna!

"No," Meryndath said flatly, then faltered. "I find you... um... it's not just the knowledge I'm after. Living here with you has been wonderful. At the least much more enjoyable that home. But what does that have to do with not teaching me?"

Ryn was quiet for a long moment. They listened to the sound of Rachel, who was beyond eyesight. A moment later, the dog came back with a stick in her mouth. Rachel was having trouble brining it to Ryn because the stick itself was three times Rachel's length, and had many branches still on it. Thank ye, Ryn thought to the Gods for bringing this distraction.

"Rachel, put that stick down. Here," Ryn picked up one that was much more manageable for her, "fetch this." He threw the stick off to the side of the trail. Rachel bounded off to get it, tail wagging in circles.

"Well?" Meryndath asked. Ryn was back where he started. Taking a deep breath, he started to explain why.

"About six years ago there was this girl I knew, and we were getting close. She told me about how much she wanted to be with me, and to learn to heal like I can. She said we could get married... Well, it turned out that all she wanted was my craft. When she learned all that she thought she needed to know, she left me." Ryn reached down and grabbed the stick from Rachel's mouth. The dog had come back with it, and was impatiently waiting for Ryn to throw it.

"Oh," was all that Meryndath said. For a time, they walked along in silence. Rachel had gotten tired of fetching, so she trotted alongside Ryn, with the stick hanging out of her mouth. Meryndath finally spoke again. "You probably think that is all I'm after." She paused again. Ryn could tell that what it was that she was trying to say was very difficult. "I guess that that is all I ever said to you. Well, it hasn't been all that I've wanted to say. I, ah, well, I have an interest as you as a person."

Ryn looked at her, and then away. No, not another. Ye Gods, why do you do this to me? Did I wrong thee? Another thought crept into his mind: what if she is sincere? Is that possible?

Meryndath continued, "When I saw you taking care of that poor child in Ashbernham, I knew I had found someone who I could trust: a man with compassion. I just wasn't sure how to say it. Now it seems I have to prove myself to you-"

Ryn stopped and stared at her. The thought that this girl had a genuine interest in him was unexpected, and therefor confusing. But now Ryn could see here in a different light. Her blonde hair now surrounded a face that had substance, one with a person behind it. Ryn realized that he could also see through her eyes as well: the door to her soul, the sincerity... or is she that good at hiding her intentions? Ryn tried to dismiss that thought as paranoia, but it wouldn't go away. He did manage a smile.

"The funny thing was, that was when I got Rachel." Ryn took the stick and threw it. Rachel took off after it with determination and excitement. "I was so upset I just wandered the countryside for a couple of days. During a rain storm I stopped at a farm. The mistress of the house was deathly sick. Well, she would have been except I knew what to do for her. They were so grateful, they offered me one of the puppies from a recent litter their dog had. Well- I took Rachel. After that I returned here and got back to work." Ryn couldn't think of anything more he wanted to say then. "C'mon, I'm hungry. We'll talk after dinner."

* * * * * * *

Rachel spent the evening sleeping in front of the fire. During dinner Ryn and Meryndath talked about the history of Ashbernham because Meryndath was curious about the area. Ryn enjoyed telling her about the area around Ashbernham and the forest. The forest had once been rumored to hide an ancient, ruined city. Ashbernham was built as a base for adventurers looking for the city. There never was a sighting of the city, but adventurers did find a camp of goblings near the foot of the hills north of the forest. The last group of adventurers that tried to find the city stumbled onto a group of goblings. The ensuing fight ended in a victory for the humans, but of the twelve that started only five were alive. They went to Ryn for help. Though Ryn tried his hardest, two of the men died that night, the poison on the goblings blades was too strong in their blood. The three that survived healed in time, and returned to Ashbernham to live out their lives with the gold they took from the goblings.

"In fact," Ryn said, taking a sip of tea, "Gerald was one of those men. He does stop by ever once in a while, and we talk. That's usually how I get my information about the rest of the Caerdom."

Meryndath smiled. "Wow." She paused for a moment. "Um, this tea. I've never tasted anything like it. What is it?"

"Apple. I used dried apple to flavor it, and a little cinnamon, and a touch of ginseng. It helps me relax, especially after spending the day on my knees." Ryn decided to try and change the subject. "I'm glad you like it. I know you haven't been on the road for all that long because most travelers will at least carry a sword. You don't have so much as a dagger on you. Not that I mean to pry, but you are a most curious person. Besides, if I'm going to be your teacher, I would like to know more about you."

Meryndath accepted the change of subjects, and added a twist to it. "Or is it because you want to know about the girl who has taken an interest in you? Well, if you must know, I have only been traveling for a couple of months. I guess life at home wasn't what I wanted it to be."

"Like what?" Ryn asked. He realized that he was interested in her, the remark she made was a too close to being on the mark than Ryn would have liked. So, am I to go another round with a relationship? Is there something else that could happen to me? Actually, he thought to himself, I really wouldn't mind the chance at something working. Even if it means failing again. I hope I don't screw it up. Ryn had been too wrapped up in what he was thinking to realize that Meryndath was taking a while before she answered.

"Well," she began. "I just felt that I really didn't like the people I was around. My father is an advisor to the Lord of Dun Merillyn. I lived in the Dun with him. You'd be surprised at the way the people there acted. It's like a giant masquerade. You had to act a certain way, say certain things, and always be the way you are expected. It was just too false for me. I did spend some time in a village outside of the dun- two years to be exact. It was completely different. People were honest. They didn't have the 'masks' to uphold. They really were who they were. When I returned to the Dun, I found out exactly how much I hated it. Oh- I do love my father, but he to was a part of the charade. So I left. I wanted to wander around the realm, and find someone who I could settle with: a person whom I felt had compassion, and understanding... someone I could trust."

Meryndath looked at Ryn hard. There was no hint of deception in her eyes. Is she trying to see into me? Ryn thought. Aye, lass. I'd love to trust you. I would. You've given me all the reason these past days. "I want to," Ryn said aloud, not realizing that he said it aloud.

"Want to what?" Meryndath asked.

Ryn stuttered for a moment, realizing what he had said. He thought about covering it up with a lie, but decided not to. It was time to break the pattern that had befallen his life. "I'd like to be the one you trust. I would like to trust you." Great, he thought. really cryptic.

Meryndath looked hurt. "You don't trust me? What have I done to cause distrust? I've done what I can to help you. What have I done?"

"No, no. It's not you," Ryn started, hoping to calm her. "It's me. It's my past."


"Aye, and Gwen. Gwen was the one that hurt the most." Ryn stared into the fire. "About two years after Lanna, I was working here in my garden. A young lady came by, looking for me. She said that she needed a place to stay because the Inn cost too much, and someone told her that I could help. I was more than happy to have the company, and she even offered to help with chores. Unlike Lanna, she wasn't interested in learning about my trade. She just wanted a place to be. After a while, she and I became pretty close. I thought that Lanna was just a mistake- a fluke of life. But then I went away to Thenrill for a couple of days." Ryn paused for a moment, and took a breath. It was good to get this out, he thought. I can't believed I'm telling her! was his next thought.

"Anyway, when Rachel and I came back, this entire house was a mess. All of my jars, boxes, everything was smashed. There were dug holes in the floor and the fireplace. It looked as though an army of excavaters had been through here. My first thought was that goblings had been through here and had taken Gwen. So, I raced to Ashbernham to get some help. When I got there, Gerald took me aside to tell me what he knew. As it happened, Gwen had come through there before she met me. Gerald always believed that I was possessed magic."

"You mean Dweomer," Meryndath said, trying to impress Ryn. The look Ryn gave her told her never to say that again.

"Gwen thought that if she got here, she could find my magic and treasure and steal it. It happened that while I was gone, Gerald had come to see me, and found the girl tearing the place apart, frustrated that she couldn't find anything. Gerald took her back to Ashbernham and threatened to lock her up if she didn't leave town immediately. I guess Gerald had really scared her, because she hasn't been around since." Ryn finished his cup of tea, and poured himself another, and then another for Meryndath, who held out her cup.

They both sat in silence for a while, watching the fire crackle. Rachel rolled over in her sleep and sighed contently.

"I guess that was when I decided that it wasn't the situations I was in, but it was me," Ryn continued. "I decided then that I was just incapable of love. I mean, how could I have been so wrong about a person? I just, it..." Ryn couldn't find a way to express the thought, so he dropped it and continued. "I really felt that I should not trust anyone who wanted to get close. I wanted to live alone, and not have to deal with things on a personal level. It has always brought me trouble. But I also wanted so much for it to work out. And now I have another chance, with you." Meryndath's eyes lit up: Ryn had accepted her intentions.

Meryndath took Ryn's hand. "I promise not to betray you," was all she said, and smiled. Her smile was warm, and Ryn felt better. He realized that he was opening up, and allowing room in his life for her. He hoped that this was not a bluff on her part, but he was willing to take the chance. Ryn's only reply was a smile.

* * * * * * *

A month later, Ryn and Meryndath were in the swamp again, digging up mandrake. Rachel was left at home, because the swamp was not a place where she could safely play. If she were to get stuck in some of the mud bogs, Ryn would be hard pressed to get her out. Ryn and Meryndath's relationship had changed since the night Meryndath expressed her feelings and intentions. Ryn had begun to teach her the secret to healing. They talked about everything as they worked, fully enjoying each other's company. Meryndath started to teach Ryn how to play Kamp- a game similar to chess. Meryndath felt that she was happy- a lot happier than she had ever been at home.

She reached out for another root. The dim light of the lantern was all she had to see the root, but it's distinct shape made it easy to see. Mandrake looked like a man the way it's roots were spread out. Let's see, she thought to herself, mandrake is used to strengthen a potion, or help restore life to another. Meryndath always went over the uses for what it was that she was digging for. It helped her remember as Ryn taught her. A sigh escaped from the mandrake root as she separated it from the flower. A chill ran up her spine. "This is really unnerving," she muttered softly.

Aye," Ryn replied. "I still haven't gotten used to it. I probably never will."

Meryndath blushed. She didn't Ryn think she was uninterested in learning. Ryn had told her that the moan escaping from the root was a release of gas. I was always told that it was the death of the man's soul who was tied to this root. Ah well, Ryn is probably right. Meryndath went back to thinking about her studies. Mandrake could even heal a man if used with the right salve. Ok, the salve that this would be would be clover, honey... suddenly Ryn stopped. "Shh," was all he said. Meryndath stopped and listened. She didn't hear anything. Ryn crept over to her, and shielded the lamp.

"Goblings," Ryn said. "I think they are out here hunting for food." Meryndath felt as though her heart stopped. Goblings. Those little green terrors. Like the one that tried to kill me. She could now hear the voices of the goblings: a high pitched but rough voice. Oh Gods, Meryndath thought. We're out here alone. We don't have any weapons. Ryn whispered into her ear again. "There is a cave on the other side of this stretch of water. If we could get there, we should be safe. I don't think they've seen us."

Across the water. How are we going to get there? And how can we do that if there are goblings around? Meryndath thought. She was slowly coming to the conclusion that they were trapped, and there was no escape. But Ryn seems like he knows what he's doing, she thought, trying to calm herself down. She bent down and picked up her pack. She realized that they couldn't leave any sign of their being around. Suddenly it was completely dark. Meryndath looked around, but couldn't see anything. Then she realized that Ryn had shut off the lamp. How are we supposed to see! Ryn grabbed her arm and started to pull her in the direction of the water. Meryndath put her arm up, afraid of being hit in the face with a branch.

When they reached the water, Ryn whispered into her ear again. "Follow me," he said. "Try to keep from splashing in the water. We can't make any noise, or we will be heard." Meryndath suddenly realized what Ryn was trying to do. Into the water! her mind screamed. What if it's too deep. What if they see us out there? Her chain of "what-if"'s was broken when Ryn pulled her to the water. Unfortunately Meryndath wasn't ready, and if it weren't for her keen sense of balance, she would have fallen in. Meryndath could feel the surge of adrenaline course through her. Her heart pounded so hard in her chest that she felt that it alone would announce their presence. Then she stepped into the water after Ryn. At first, she didn't feel it, but then the cold hit her like a wall. She managed to muffle a squeal. How can Ryn see anything? she thought as she looked around, not able to even see the water that was now up to her waist. Ryn started off towards the other side. Realizing that she would lose him, Meryndath grabbed on tightly to Ryn's arm. We can't get separated, she thought.

Blindly she followed Ryn. Meryndath tried to imagine the water, black and cold, and the shore they just left. Ryn continued on ahead of him, twisting a path out towards the other side. Damn, Meryndath thought. She realized that she couldn't feel her toes. The mud on the bottom was as frigid as the water. Suddenly Ryn stopped. Meryndath waited for him to continue. Maybe he can't find shallow enough water. Maybe he's lost. Ryn whispered nearly unintelligibly, "Not a sound." Meryndath wanted to scream. She swallowed the urge back, and tried to calm down. Her legs were numb, and she could feel herself shaking. What are we waiting for? Then she heard the goblings coming closer. Meryndath again resisted the urge to scream. They've found us, she thought. Now we die.

The thought of dying scared Meryndath. Unconsciously she hugged Ryn tighter, and thought about what She had been through the past months. She thought about leaving her father, whom she truly loved. Aye, father, I'll never see thee again. She thought about her meeting Ryn, how he cared for her and brought her back to health. Meryndath fought the urge to cry as well. Calm, she thought to herself. Meryndath let her mind blank, and she listened to the goblings come closer.

By now the goblings had reached the point where Ryn had led her into the water. There were many more voices than she had heard before. What is going on? she thought. The goblings were shouting in high pitched voices. Aye, they've found our trail! Meryndath tried to remain motionless. Maybe they don't know we are in the water. She felt Ryn holding her tightly, and that comforted her a little. At least I won't be alone, she thought. Ryn- the man that I was nearly killed trying to meet, and now my teacher, and friend. No, more than a friend, she decided. Oh, Ryn, after all you've been through, you'll never know that I wouldn't betray you. I wish I could tell you.

The cold water had drained all of Meryndath's strength. She clung to Ryn, trying to remain conscious. Finally Ryn began to move again. Meryndath didn't hear the goblings leave, but as she strained to hear, she could only hear the faint sound of the two of them moving though the water. It was hard for her to remain standing. The water had numbed her legs, causing her to lose her balance more than once. Finally they reached the other side. Meryndath tried to get out of the water, but slipped and fell. Ryn grabbed her arm and pulled her out of the water. "I'm cold," she said.

"I know," Ryn replied.

Meryndath wanted to say, "I love you," but she didn't have the strength. She followed Ryn, stumbling on roots and brush. Ryn put an arm around her for support, and lead her on. The cave was right there because it was really a hollow dug into the side of the hill by water. The two went in and sat down in the very back. Meryndath was grateful to be on dry ground again. She was happy to be alive, and to be with Ryn. Unconsciousness finally overcame her as she hugged Ryn tightly.

Meryndath's dreams were filled with scenes from home, her father, and Ryn. She dreamt of spending the rest of her life with Ryn in a place not far from her father. Fields of hay swayed in the breeze as Meryndath worked on the farm she had been at years ago. Life was good, and safe. Suddenly a sense of danger came over Meryndath, and she awoke with a start.

"What- where are we?" she asked, looking around. The muddy cave was being lit by sunbeams coming through the entrance. She could see the stretch of water they had crossed the night before out in front of the cave. Ryn was still holding her, but he was groggy with sleep as well. Sunlight- she realized that the goblings were gone. The two of them had survived. Ah, Ryn, she thought, you and I are still alive. She gave Ryn a hug. Aye we're alive. I love you, she tried to say, but her mouth wouldn't speak. She stretched up and kissed Ryn passionately on the lips. At first Ryn seemed shocked. Gotcha, Meryndath thought. The kiss lasted, and Meryndath felt this was the only way she could tell him how she felt. Meryndath leaned back, and pulled Ryn down on top of her. They spent the rest of the morning in the cave in the company of each other and the warmth of the sun.

* * * * * * *

Meryndath and Ryn were picking beans from Ryn's garden on a late July afternoon. The sun was beating down but the lack of humidity on this day made it bearable. Rachel sat in the shade of the oak tree that stood between Ryn's garden and his house. Ryn and Meryndath's relationship had changed greatly since the night in the swamp. Ryn felt much more comfortable with Meryndath. He was happy to realize that he could trust her. For the first time, Meryndath was content with her situation in life. These things, as well as much more, the two expressed to each other.

Rachel sat up, with her ears raised as well as she could raise them. She was looking down the trail towards Dun Thenrill. Ryn listened intently. He knew that Rachel heard something out of the ordinary. Soon he heard the thumping sound of approaching horses. Humans, Ryn thought. At least it isn't goblings.

"What's going on?" Meryndath asked.

"Riders," Ryn replied. "Probably from Dun Thenrill. Don't worry, they won't harm us. I wonder what they need, though." The approaching horses could now be seen coming down the trail. There were two of them, and both had riders. The riders worn chain mail shirts covered with an em blazoned cloth shirt. The emblem was a silhouette of a swooping falcon on a blue background. Definitely men from Thenrill, Ryn thought with a sense of relief. But why are they in armor? Ryn also saw that they both had their longswords, as well as a quiver of javelins. War, Ryn realized, and sighed. He understood the necessity of fighting, but who would be fighting now? Ryn knew the next couple of days would be tiring. Dun Thenrill had a man who was competent in healing, but admitted to be nothing as good as Ryn. Besides, Ryn thought, even if Allin is only one man, and I haven't talked to him in a while. Meryndath could help too. The riders slowed their horses. Ryn recognized the man in front as Marcus, one of the Dun Thenrill warband. "Hail, Marcus," Ryn said.

"Hail and well-met, Ryn," Marcus replied. Marcus was a young man with dirty blonde hair and a forever-young face. His roundish face made it seem that he was always thinking about something that was not all too serious. "We need you at the Dun to help heal our wounded."

"who are you fighting with?" Ryn asked. "I wasn't aware of problems with the any Duns in the Realms."

"Tor men. They came down from the mountains and burned Neryn to the ground. We met them in the field between there and Thenrill and managed to fight them off. Many have fallen, and Allin can't take care of them all himself. Lord Michael sent me here to ask for your help."

"Aye, we'll come. It'll take me the rest of today to get ready, but I shall be there tomorrow. tell Lord Michael that I will come." Ryn looked at Meryndath and continued, "Also tell him that I will bring my help as well."

"Aye, I will, and thank you, good Ryn." Marcus tuned to the other rider. "Gerin, you continue on to Dun Derr with the news. I shall return with Ryn's answer. Go!" Gerin took off without a word towards Ashbernham. Marcus turned his horse around. "And I shall return to Thenrill with your news, Ryn" Marcus dug his heels into the sides of his horse and took off at a gallop back to Dun Thenrill. Ryn stood where he was until the sound of the horses' hoofs could no longer be heard.

"We're going to Dun Thenrill?" Meryndath asked, finally.

"Aye," Ryn replied. "That we are. We'll need to go to Ashbernham and borrow some horses. It's about a day and a half on horse to Dun Thenrill."

Ryn and Meryndath spent a hour getting salves, potions, and other things that Ryn was sure that he was going to need. As soon as they were done, the two of them took off, with Rachel following.

"How is Rachel going to follow?" Meryndath asked.

"She's a strong dog. You'd be amazed at how long she can go. She's done this trip before, don't worry." Ryn patted Rachel on the top of the head. Rachel responded by heading off to the side of the trail and grabbing a stick. She didn't offer it to Ryn, but carried it along.

"Looks like she's got all she needs," Meryndath said, jokingly. Both laughed, causing Rachel to wag her tail.

The reached the town of Ashbernham before the sun fell. Ryn had explained to Meryndath that Gerald kept a horse for him in case he needed to take a long trip like this one. Gerald would be able to get another horse for Meryndath without a problem. "I wouldn't be surprised if Gerald even threw in something to eat as well," Ryn told her.

Sure enough, Gerald did give them two loaves of bread, a hunk of cheese and some sausage. The second horse was not a problem to get either. The news about the attack on Dun Thenrill's land was disturbing because if Dun Thenrill fell, and this was an offensive by the people of the Tor, Ashbernham was next in line. With Gerald's wishes, Ryn. Meryndath and Rachel headed south on the path to the trade road.

"That was easy enough," Meryndath said, looking around. The sun was close to setting, and the long shadows of the trees on the side of the trail was playing with their eyes. "Is that a group of people ahead?"

Ryn hadn't been paying attention to the trail ahead. He rose in his saddle and looked. "Yes. Maybe four or five. It's not a surprise, since it is going to be dark soon. They're most likely headed for the Green Wyvern."

As the men came closer, Ryn could make out details of the men. There were four of them, and they wore chain shirts. The emblem on their shirts was a red starburst on a blue plain. All of the men wore helmets that only covered the head and not their faces. Longswords bounced in their scabbards at their sides. Ryn did not recognized the emblem, but the look on Meryndath's face was curious, and seemed as though she recognized the symbol, as well as the men.

"Rombal?" Meryndath called to the men, questioningly.

The men reined in their horses. The leader called back, "Meryndath? Is that you?"

"Aye, but what are you doing out here? Why have you left the Dun so far behind?" Meryndath urged her horse forward to meet the men. Ryn and Rachel followed pensively.

What is going on? Ryn thought. Rachel looked up at him, as though wondering the same thing. She sat down on her haunches and began to chew on a stick.

"Meryndath, we were sent out throughout the Realm to find you. It's your father, he's dying." Rombal was visibly uncomfortable telling her the bad news. The men behind him all looked tired and sad. "Lord Bontir sent us to find you, because it was your father's wish to see you again before he died. He was so broken after you left..."

Ryn looked at Meryndath. Her face was pale, and she seemed on the verge of tears. Aye, lass, your father, Ryn thought. He thought of back to when his father died, and how he dealt with it. Ryn's father was his only kin that he knew. His mother had died when he was young, and Ryn's father had raised him- and taught him as well. Lass, it's your father, he needs you. Ryn's feelings sank, and he moved towards Meryndath and placed a comforting hand on her arm. She was shaking.

Rombal continued, "I know how this must seem, but your father was not upset at your leaving. He just wants to see you. Lord Bontir cares as well, and that is why we were sent." Rombal was trying to ease her feelings, but Meryndath was in another world.

Meryndath leaned over and hugged Ryn as best as she could on horseback. "Oh Ryn, I don't want to leave you, but..." She couldn't finish. Meryndath looked into Ryn's eyes, and Ryn could see the conflict.

Aye, lass, it will be tough, Ryn thought. "Go to your father. He needs you, and wishes to see you one last time." Ryn waited for her to say something, but she didn't. "I'll still be here. Go. You can always come back to me later. When your father's gone, he's gone."

Meryndath tried to smile. "I'll be back as soon as I can, Ryn. I love you."

"I love you to, Meryndath," Ryn replied.

Meryndath urged her horse forward. "Let's go, Rombal. I need to see my father." She headed down the trail past Rombal and his men.

"Aye, lady," Rombal replied. Rombal took a long look at Ryn and turned his horse and followed Meryndath. The other three followed him without even glancing at Ryn.

Ryn sat in his saddle watching them leave. He wasn't upset that she was gone because he understood the feeling of losing kin. "Well, Rachel, it looks like it's just you and me again." Rachel stood up and wagged her tail. She reached her nose up and licked Ryn's hand. Ryn had to lean down for her to reach his hand, but he didn't mind. Rachel's companionship was what kept him going at times, and this seemed like it was going to be one of those times.

Ryn and Rachel traveled the entire night towards Dun Thenrill. He knew that it would take until midday to get there, but at the pace that he and Rachel were going, it could be done without fatiguing him, Rachel or the horse. He caught himself many times wanting to say something to Meryndath, but she wasn't there. It was strange for Ryn to be alone, even though he had spent most of his life alone at his home.

"I guess companionship grows on you faster than any vine," Ryn said whimsically aloud. It's true, he thought. Meryndath was such a help for him. She was nothing like Gwen or Lanna. Granted, they all left... but Meryndath is coming back. Even if she doesn't, she didn't betray my trust. Life had changed for Ryn. The past no longer hung on him like an epitaph. He was happy, and there was someone who cared a lot about him. This thought carried him as he rode to Dun Thenrill and the work ahead of him.

* * * * * * *

Ryn rode contently, taking in the sighted of the lands of Dun Thenrill. The shadows of the Abrym mountains lay heavy over the rolling hills. Sheep grazed in vast herds on almost every hill that Ryn could see. He began to lose himself in the mystique of it all, when a raven, taking off and flying in front of his horse, startled him back to where he was. Just in front of Ryn, Lord Michael led the warband to confront the marauding Tor men. They had been traveling through the hills for two days. Marcus rode next to Lord Michael, constantly bumping his horse with Michael's. Marcus's eyes seemed to be everywhere, watching every hill and turn in the road. Behind Ryn rode twelve mounted men-at-arms and seven archers. Rachel loped along next to Ryn, happy to be outside and with Ryn. Beside Ryn rode a bardess named Moran.

Ryn remembered meeting Moran nearly a year ago at the Green Wyvern during the Harvest Festival. She was a beautiful lady who tried her best to look delicate, but her reputation as a swordsman preceded her wherever she went. Her ability to play any instrument given to her was what she was know for the most. Ryn preferred her stories because he enjoyed imagining. Moran was living at Dun Thenrill, which was very peculiar for a bard who spent her life never staying in the same place for more than a week. Ryn knew the rumors about Moran and Lord Michael, and knew that the rumors were not just rumors. Moran rode with the warband to spirit them, and write a tale of their victories.

Michael raised an arm, and the warband halted. A man who had his horse running at a full gallop was coming over a hill and across a field towards the warband. Michael urged his horse forward and rode out to the approaching man. Marcus did his best to stay right at Michael's side.

"Something's up," Moran said to Ryn. "That's one of our scouts. I'll bet you a dozen Derr whores that he knows where the Tor men are."

Ryn stood up in his saddle, as if the few inches would better his understanding of what was going on. The rest of the warband waited patiently. The jingle of harnesses and the impatient plodding of a hoof or two was all the sound the group made. Lord Michael and Marcus cantered back to the group. Marcus already had his longsword in his hand.

"Looks like we'll be finding out ourselves," Moran answered herself wryly.

"Archers! Dismount and set up behind that sheep barrier!" Michael commanded. Ryn looked at the wall that Lord Michael pointed at. It was nearly waste high, and looked more like a loose pile of stones that snaked their way across the field. There was one break in it, wide enough for three horses to pass through without bumping each other. The scout who had come to warn the warband dismounted and took charge of the archers horses. The archers ran for the wall, readying their bows.

Lord Michael reached the rest of the group. His voice was calm, but filled with strength and confidence. "Nemlwyn, stand your group about twenty yards behind the opening in the wall. When the Tor men come over the hill, let them have it with your javelins. The hill is going to make this a quick fight, so be ready to charge them as soon as you fire."

"Aye, M'Lord," Nemlwyn said, then lead the warband to their ordered position.

"Damn hills," Marcus muttered. "We'll never see them until they are nearly on top of us."

"That's what I'm hoping for," Lord Michael said. He then turned to Moran and Ryn, "We'll watch from that rock over there. If it comes to it, Marcus and I will charge into the fray."

"Well, I suppose I could play my pipes if you think it would help," Moran offered Michael in a dry tone. "But only of you need it." Marcus and Michael laughed at the confused look on Ryn's face. Moran winked as she pulled her pipes from her saddle sack. Ryn turned to watch the hill, as though it would tell him when the enemy was approaching.

The hair on the back of Ryn's neck stood when the drone of the pipes picked up. The entire warband suddenly looked more energetic- or was that because the sun had just peeked through the clouds? Ryn wasn't sure, but he knew then that stories could never fully describe the eerie feeling the drones created. Even Ryn felt the warm anticipation of battle.

The field was bathed in the sound of the pipes, and beyond that, only the sound of impatient horses and distant sheep could be heard. Where are they? Ryn thought and strained to listen above the pipes. At first he failed, but then he could hear something new. Ryn thought the sound of the oncoming horses compared to the rumble of distant thunder. Oh Gods, Ryn thought, what am I doing here? His mind quickly conjured of an image of Meryndath and a fleeting thought of what she might be doing now. Before he could ponder any further the thought was shattered in his mind as the Tor men broke over the crest of the hill. Ryn would remember from that day on the sight of the Tor men charging towards the men of Dun Thenrill. The Tor men were dressed in chainmail shirts, and were covered in wolfhide. They wore light helmets that barely covered their heads, which was covered in thick flaming red hair and beards. The Tor men waived axes and swords above their heads and cried to the BattleGod as they charged towards the men of Dun Thenrill.

Gods, there's too many of them, was all Ryn could think. He looked at Marcus and Michael, but both of their faces were unreadable. Moran was intently playing the pipes, watching the approaching men. One of the archers fled the field of battle, having the same thought as Ryn.

"Stand your ground!" Marcus barked at the rest of the archers. The men at the sheep wall looked around, but did not move. Most readied their bows and took aim, waiting for the command to fire.

Lord Michael raised his arm, and lowered it in a sweeping motion. The mounted Thenrill men moved forward at a slow trot. The horses pawed and whinnied, but the riders kept them under control. When the riders were even with the archers they threw their javelins. The darts glinted in the dying sun as they arced upwards, then dove deadly into the ranks of the Tor men. At the same time the archers let loose their arrows, nocked, and let loose again. The battle cries of the Tor men were now mixed with the screams of dying men and the near-human shrill screams of dying horses. The ranks of the Tor men broke as they tried to move around their downed comrades.

A battle cry erupted from the Thenrill men as they spurred their horses to charge forward. Ryn distinctly heard Nemlwyn's "Tally-ho!" above the others. The two warbands met with a crash. In the middle of the two groups, horses from both sides mingled as their riders hacked and slashed at each other. Ryn could see Nemlwyn in the very center with his friend Herren guarding his flank. Taking the brunt of the Tor attack, the two parried with their enemies. Nemlwyn made many scathing attacks that found their mark. The numbers of the Tor men fell to the swiftness of the Thenrill attack, and the two forces were now about evenly matched.

The screams of the dying mixed not at all well with the sound of Moran's pipes, and Ryn shivered. He could hear Rachel barking, but the sound of her voice seemed out of place here. He looked over to Lord Michael, who stood grim faced. Marcus was watching the battle with anticipation, waiting for the tide to turn against them.

Suddenly Moran stopped playing. Michael drew his sword, and Marcus swore as he pulled his horse closer to Lord Michael to protect him. Ryn focused on the battle again, and realized that some of the Tor men had broken away from the fight and were charging straight for them. Three archers stood in the way, but the Tor men ran them down with their horses. Rachel's barking continued as she jumped impatiently around. Her eyes gleamed and the intent to kill was fully expressed on her face. The look reminded him of the time some goblings had happened upon her years before. When the Tor men hit, Michael was ready. He feigned a thrust at the leader, then swung backhanded at the man on his other side, catching him off guard. The blade sank into the man's shoulder above the line of his mail shirt. The man screamed once, then fell dead. Suddenly Rachel jumped, knocking another Tor man from his saddle. She landed on him and drove for his throat, but the Tor man managed to throw her off. Rachel hit the ground hard and yelped. She stood shaking. Behind her, another Tor man planned to run her down.

"Rachel!" Ryn screamed, throwing the dagger Michael had given him. The dagger hit the man in the arm, but it didn't stop him. Ryn picked up a spear and charged. Suddenly a rider put himself between the Tor man and Rachel. The Tor man was too surprised to react, and with one swing the rider cut the Tor man from his horse. The rider turned and winked at Ryn. Moran then urged her horse towards Michael and Marcus. Ryn looked at Rachel who stood where she had fallen, wagging her tail. A grunt from behind Ryn made him spin around to see the Tor man that Rachel had knocked over stand. His blue shirt was stained black with his own blood. His sword was in his hand as he took a step towards Ryn. Ryn became very aware that they were alone at the rock: him, the Tor man and Rachel.

Ryn had never handled a spear before, but his father had taught him to fight with a staff. Holding the spear as he had been taught to hold a quarterstaff, Ryn crouched, waiting to take on the warrior. "Aye, you taught me well father, but we'll see." The blue shirted man swung down at Ryn with a slash aimed for the neck, but Ryn blocked it easily. The second attack was much more forceful when the warrior swung backhanded, and Ryn nearly lost his grip on the spear. The Tor man grinned and thrust at Ryn's midsection with all his might. Ryn saw the attack coming, but the Tor man was moving faster than he was. At the last moment Ryn turned out of the way, nearly catching the blade in the ribs. Catching the man at the moment of unbalance Ryn brought down the end of his staff, pinning the sword down on the ground. With the same motion Ryn brought the butt of the spear up and smashed it into the man's jaw. Blood flew from the man's mouth as he reeled backwards. Ryn thrust the butt at the man's throat, but the man's flailing arms knocked it out of the way. The butt hit the man in the chest instead, knocking him down. Ryn reversed the spear and drove it into his chest. The sound of cracking bone mixed with that of pierced chainmail was Ryn's only indication of how much force he had used in the attack. The Tor man's eyes bulged, a bloody gurgle escaped his lips. Ryn heard the sound of a horse behind him, and he spun around to take on his new attacker.

The rider was Michael, with Marcus right beside him. Ryn still stood crouched, waiting for him to attack. "Hail, Goodman Ryn. It's over." Ryn still stood ready, then finally understood when Moran approached him on foot, with an outstretched hand. Ryn sighed, dropping his spear. Michael continued in a calm voice filled with admiration. "I've always known you has a healer, but today I watched you fight like a warrior. Many men would have fled from a Tor savage."

Aye, he was going to kill my dog, was all Ryn thought, but couldn't say. The feeling in his stomach wasn't gone. Ryn then began to realize that he couldn't hear the sound of fighting. Looking around, he saw that the battle was indeed over.

"Ryn!" The yell brought Ryn to his senses so fast he nearly fell. Turning, he saw Nemlwyn carrying Herren. Nemlwyn laid his friend down and knelt next to him. Ryn bent over the wounded man to see the damage. Herren was holding his stomach with both hands, which Ryn pried apart. Herren's chain shirt was cut wide open, and nothing but his hands were holding his entrails in. Moran knelt down next to Ryn and handed him his sack of healing salves. She had gone for it the moment she had seen Herren. Aye, nothing can help this lad, Ryn thought helplessly. Tears filled Nemlwyn's eyes and he wept openly. Herren looked at his friend, smiled faintly, and died. The group sat silent, the only sound was Nemlwyn's crying. Ryn stood up, feeling a tear come to his eye. He looked around for others that needed him, ad went to them.

The Thenrill riders, half of what they were that morning, spent the rest of the day burying their dead. At sundown Moran stood at the top of the hill and played her pipes in honor of the dead. The tune was a well known one in the Realm, and everyone joined in the keening. Michael knew said that this would be the last attack the Tor men could safely make this year. For your sake I hope you are right, Michael, Ryn thought.

* * * * * * *

Ryn spent the next week at Dun Thenrill, helping Allin with the wounded. Ryn did his best to guide Allin, letting Allin do most of the work. It was only a matter of time and experience that he realizes his talent, Ryn thought. Ryn spent a lot of his time in the Dun's yard under one of the trees. Rachel sat with him because he would absentmindedly scratch her head as he thought. Ryn reflected on the battle, and what he did. He didn't regret killing the man but really was amazed that he actually killed him. Ah, well, that isn't what you really should be dwelling on, his mind told him, then it pushed in an image of Meryndath. Oh, lass, where are you? Ryn was suddenly startled by Lord Michael standing over him.

"Mind if I sit here?" Michael asked. Ryn knew that Michael could do what he wished, but to ask permission in his own Dun? Michael sat down after Ryn nodded. "I thank you again for helping us. Allin is still learning, but he too thanks you for helping. The Tor men shouldn't be coming back this year. We should have the winter to plan what we are going to do."

"Aye, my Lord. I think that Allin has talent, he just lacks self confidence. Everything that has been done here was done by him. I've merely guided him, that's all," Ryn explained.

"I know," Michael replied, then was silent for a moment. The two watched the clouds for a while, then Michael spoke again. "Do you know Allyshia?"

Ryn thought for a moment. "You mean the girl who helps Allin?"

"Yes, her. Well, I've known you for years, and have known some of what you went through. In fact I had men chase Gwen after what she did, but she escaped into the Tor realm. What I want to say is that maybe Allyshia could go back with you and learn from you. Who knows, maybe you two will become fond of each other."

Ryn coughed. What would Meryndath say? Taking a long breath, Ryn explained his refusal. "Aye, my lord, but my heart has been claimed already. There is a young lass whom I met this past spring. I've been teaching her, and in time she and I have become very close."

Lord Michael smiled. "I'm sorry, I didn't know that."

Ryn continued, "You wouldn't have. She was going to come here with me, but she received news of her father being sick, so she left just before I came here. She said she'd come back as soon as she can."

Lord Michael asked, "Do you think she will?"

I hope so, Ryn thought. "Yes. We care a lot about each other."

"Hmph. That's what you said about Gwen. I don't want to see you get it again, that's all. Well, if you feel that she's worth it, then stick with her. But if she doesn't come back, I know Allyshia is interested." Lord Michael stood up and stretched. "I've got some things to take care of Ryn. I'll see you later." Michael paused. "Do you play Kamp?"

Ryn nodded. "A little. Meryndath was teaching me."

Michael smiled. "I've got a board that Moran brought me. I wouldn't mind a game later tonight."

"Neither would I, M'Lord." Ryn replied. The game Meryndath was teaching him was something Ryn found very intriguing. Lord Michael left, leaving Ryn to think about Meryndath and what her promise meant. Ryn realized that it meant nearly everything. He thought about how he felt about Gwen, and Lanna. He trusted them, but they had never given them reason to be trusted. Meryndath had. This was the one thing that made the difference. Aye, lass. when are you coming back? Ryn decided that he had to leave the next day. If Meryndath was coming back, he had to be there when she got there. With that decision made, Ryn felt better. Kamp, he thought, it's time to see how well she's taught me.

* * * * * * *

Ryn looked up at the Oktobre clouds. The winds from the mountains were cold, and Ryn and Rachel were preparing for a long winter. Ryn was in his garden, harvesting the last of the tomatoes, and preparing the garden for the winter. Rachel was collecting a pile of sticks, as though they would be scarce in the winter. Aye, it's cold, Ryn thought. He looked over at the pile of wood stacked next to the house. As a yearly favor, some of the farmers from Ashbernham would cut Ryn some wood. They always said it was 'the neighborly thing to do,' but Ryn knew ti was in thanks for his services. Not too many healers in this realm, Ryn said aloud. Aye, his mind replied, and not too many ladies like Meryndath. Ryn sighed. Meryndath had been gone for only three months, but that seemed like an eternity. Ryn's feelings for her hadn't changed, and that made him happier as the weeks progressed. If anything, Ryn rationalized, I can look back and see someone I was close to without feeling bitter.

That night Ryn dreamt about the battle of Dun Thenrill, when Rachel was nearly killed. For the most part, the dream followed exactly what happened, but as it progressed over and over again, things changed. Meryndath was there, and the Tor men were trying to kill her. Sometimes they succeeded, and others they didn't. When the Tor men didn't kill her, she was crying because she had to go. Every time the dream ended, Ryn's mind echoed with Meryndath's voice: "I'll come back, I promise". Ryn finally woke up. It was still dark out. He could feel Rachel sleeping next to him. Her steady, slow breathing was comforting to Ryn. He reached out his hand and scratched Rachel's stomach. In her sleep, Rachel wagged her tail once.

A week later, Ryn was turning the soil in the garden and planting winter rye. Rachel was still collecting sticks, and the pile she had created was impressive. Ryn smiled. Rachel had never done this before, but she was very determined to gather a pile of sticks. "Ah, Rachel, you never cease to amaze me," Ryn said. Rachel stopped and looked at him and wagged her tail. But then she looked down the trail, raising her ears as high as she could. She hears something, Ryn thought. A moment later, he could hear it too: the sound of an an approaching horse. It was coming from the direction of Ashbernham. Ryn stood and waited. What was up now? he thought.

The horse came into view, and Ryn could only stare: Meryndath was the rider. Meryndath smiled as she reached the clearing and saw Ryn. Meryndath! Ryn tried to say, but couldn't. Meryndath dismounted and ran to Ryn, giving him a big hug. Before Ryn could say anything, Meryndath kissed him. Finally, when she was done kissing him (Ryn did do his best to be a part of the kiss) Ryn could only say "Your back."

Meryndath looked at him incredulously. "Really?" She laughed and kissed him again. When she was done, she took a step back. "I would like a cup of tea, if you don't mind. Besides, we need to talk." Meryndath lead Ryn inside. Ryn knew that he wasn't going to be able to finish the garden that day. Rachel followed them into the house with a stick in her mouth.

Ryn wasn't sure how to ask, so he asked as without thinking. "How was home?" Meryndath stopped grinding leaves and looked at him. "I'm sorry," Ryn followed with quickly.

"My father died last month," Meryndath said. "He was so glad to see me. We talked a lot about when I was younger. He said he wasn't mad about my leaving. Aye, he was sick. He couldn't leave his bed at all. I told him about you and what you've taught me. I even managed a small potion to ease his cough. He said that as long as you take care of me, he'll be happy." A tear was forming in the corner of her eye. "After he died I stayed to see what he left behind for me. I wanted something to remember him by. Lord Bontir wanted me to stay, but I had to explain that I belonged here. And so I'm back."

"Aye, you are at that, Meryndath." Ryn gave her a big hug. She stopped grinding leaves again and stood in his arms for a long time. Meryndath was weeping so Ryn held her and comforted her.

Ryn and Meryndath spent the winter in each other's company. Ryn continued to teach Meryndath about herbalism, and Meryndath continued to teach Ryn about the complexities of Kamp. In the spring they married under the watchful eye of the Good God Jaraius. Life for Ryn was no longer bitter.

June 5, 1995 at 11:02 AM